More Vandalism

Hanging Basket Vandalsim

Outside the pannier market today I noticed that one of the hanging baskets had been vandalised. You can’t see it very well in this picture unfortunately but it looks worse in real life. It might be a minor thing but it looks unsightly and costs time and money to clear up.

Why do people have to engage in such mindless hooliganism?


South Molton Swimming Pool Trustees AGM

A very well attended meeting on Friday night – good.

The reasons for attendance – bad!

When things are going swimmingly (pun intended) people don’t tend to attend AGMs. When they have issues – they do!

Some of the many issues raised by the attendees included:

  • Opening hours – the pool has frequently been closed, either because of equipment failures or staffing issues;
  • Cleanliness – the state of the showers and the tiling of the pool leave something to be desired;
  • The lack of a proper hairdryer;
  • Lack of communication of unplanned closures.

Unfortunately the trustees were very defensive. They shouldn’t have been. People recognise that they are doing a difficult job and face many challenges – not least of which is that much of the equipment is old, doesn’t work properly, and needs replacing.

Hopefully once a new pool manager has been appointed (applications closed on Friday) things will improve.

The manager can look after the day-to-day running of the pool and the trustees can devote more time to longer term strategic issues.

For example:

  • gaining access to so-called Section 106 money from the district council ;
  • exploring options to obtain grants from other sources;
  • communicating with both the Town Coucil and district Council;
  • better public facing communication in general.

A bit of fund raising wouldn’t go amiss either.

The swimming pool is a very important part of our local community and needs to be kept going!

Gaming the Planning System

Back in 2012 the District Council approved the conversion of a two car garage into ancillary living accommodation for the adjacent house. The application was also endorsed by the Town Council.

The first plans increased  the height of the roof line by a small amount and showed two bedrooms and a bathroom in the roof space. The ground floor was shown as a gym/recreation area.

The original application was approved with the constraint that there should be no deviation from the initially submitted plans and the accommodation should only be used as ancillary accommodation with no cooking facilities.

A new application has now been received which alters the original application by:

  • increasing the height of the roof line even further;
  • making minor changes to the bedrooms;
  • adding a toilet downstairs;
  • dividing the space downstairs into two rooms – a gym and a recreation area.

Three objections to this new application were received.

The Town Council endorsed the new application on the grounds that ‘they’d approved the last one’ and that ‘there were no real changes’. They either totally ignored the objections or didn’t know that there were any – I suspect the latter.

It would almost certainly comply with building regulations for new housing as it would now have a toilet on the ground floor. It wouldn’t take a great deal of work to install a kitchen on the ground floor and then use the building as totally self contained accommodation. And voila! A new house for sale.

In theory, if this were to happen the District Council could insist that the kitchen be taken out. What would happen in practise is, of course, likely to be entirely different.

I would like to suggest that our Town Clerk briefs our town councillors properly and thoroughly before any planning applications are discussed at the town council level.


Station Road Speed Limit

Because of the new houses being built  off Station Road, the Town Council wanted a speed limit of 30mph to be extended along the full length of Station Road. From where it currently starts, just past the junction with Hugh Squier Avenue, to the junction with the Link Road.

Devon County Council (DCC) were happy to extend the 30mph limit to just before the turn-off for Gunsdown Villas,  but objected to extending it all the way to the Link Road junction. This was not what our elected representatives wanted but was the advice given to them by the council officers i.e. the council employees.

In order for the full 30mph limit to be approved it will have to go a full meeting of the DCC cabinet!

I’ve gone into the whole issue in more detail here.


Town Hall Scaffolding

At the recent Town Council meeting it was decided that the scaffolding on the Town Hall won’t be coming down until sometime in the spring, once the repair works have been completed.

The rationale behind this is twofold:

  1. The first being cost: it was costing £60 a week to keep the scaffolding up, this has now been negotiated down to £200 a month. However, it would have cost £2,200 to take it down and put it up again in the spring.
  2. The second reason is more compelling. The Town Council have been advised to keep it up on Health and Safety grounds in order to avoid the possibility of masonry falling on people!

The question that still needs to be properly answered is: Why did the first set of repairs not fix the issues? Was the work not done properly?

District Council Expenditure in South Molton

Apparently the District Council have set aside £1 million in their capital fund for spending in South Molton. It appears that some Town Councillors would like this spent on the central car park area, some would like it spent on Pathfields. One brave soul even suggested that it might be spent on both.

I  wonder what the South Molton electorate think it should be spent on?

Suggestions by email please to

CCG Meeting

People might wonder why the CCG meeting was reported as having unanimously voted in favour of closing the beds at Torrington Community Hospital when the BBC video appeared to show only seven hands up during the voting process. It’s quite simple really – although not well explained by the CCG Board.

Although there are fifteen Board members, only seven of them can vote. Six of the seven voting members are local (to North Devon) GPs. The seventh voting member is the Managing Director of the local CCG.

So six local GPs can vote and only one manager can.

My own feeling is that a lay member (i.e. ‘ordinary’ member of the public who sits on the Board) should also have a vote.

Sticky Labels

Why do manufacturers and retailers insist on using product labels that are almost impossible to remove without the application of large amounts of elbow grease and copious quantities of acetone or lighter fluid?

Why not use labels that simply peel off?

A Message for SMTC (and other town and parish councils)

Something for South Molton Town Council to note is that at Wednesday’s CCG meeting in the Assembly Rooms one of the STITCH members was recording the proceedings in audio and another was videoing the whole thing on what looked to be a professional camera. Towards the end the BBC news crew also arrived.

Two video cameras and one audio recorder – and not a word of protest from any of the CCG Board members!

More About Torrington Hospital (and wider issues)

I expect a lot of people will have seen the piece about the closure of the beds at Torrington Hospital on BBC Southwest. There’s also a piece about it on the BBC web site.

I’m at the bottom left of the picture of the meeting. My head can’t be seen, but that is me with the laptop – one of the very few times it’s actually been on my lap!

STITCH (Save The Irreplaceable Torrington Cottage Hospital) campaigners were out in force. They’re the people you can see on the BBC web site occupying the whole of the second row and part of the front row.

Unfortunately the STITCH campaigners are very strong on emotion but very week on facts. Their spokeswoman on the BBC Southwest news item said quite clearly that the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) had totally ignored what STITCH had to say. They didn’t ignore it at all. Quite the reverse, they spent a great deal of time looking at the STITCH evidence and investigating it (the CCG documents can be found here).

Of course people feel passionately about their community hospital, but time has moved on and standalone ten-bedded units are exceedingly difficult to justify in today’s environment.

They’re difficult to justify on grounds of cost, and, far more importantly, they’re difficult to justify on health grounds.

When most community hospitals were founded (the Torrington hospital in 1908, South Molton even earlier, in 1897) there was no NHS and health care was very, very different. Community hospitals (or cottage hospitals as they used to be called) were very necessary indeed and acted like smaller, local equivalents of the current North Devon District Hospital.

There was far less technology involved, and far fewer different medical, nursing and ancillary specialisms. Treatments were also far simpler. For example, X-Rays were first discovered in 1895, blood transfusion techniques were properly started during the First World War in 1917, hip replacement first started in the 1950’s and 60’s (in the UK!).

In addition life expectancy has risen dramatically: in 1900 it was about 47 for a man and about 50 for a woman, in the 1930s it was about 60 for a man and by 1950 had risen to 65. It now stands at about 77 for men and 81 for women.  This has bought about a change in the types of medical issues that people face, and the number of issues that individuals, particularly the elderly, face.

A lot of treatment,  whether medical or surgical, has thus become more complex. Whereas some has become simpler and easier to administer – surgery that once would have entailed a lengthy hospital stay can now be safely performed quickly and easily as a day case.

The days of the District Nurse on a bicycle are also long gone. With cars, mobile phones, laptop computers and inexpensive equipment for measuring things like blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, blood sugar levels etc. the range  of medical issues that can be treated in the home has expanded considerably.

Of course it would be fantastic if everybody could have hospital treatment a short distance from home or if there were an A&E department in every small town.  But the money just isn’t there, neither is the requisite number of skilled staff, and people do prefer to be treated at home.